Posted in English

Desperate Verb Tenses

So I had this exercise to do in a textbook. It was one of these choose-the-right-verb-tense exercises.

“É uma experiência que eu gostava que os meus filhos, um dia, quando ________ (ser) maiores, ______ (poder) experimentar”

I put in “forem” and “poderão” which was wrong but the answers given (“fossem” and “pudessem”) didn’t make any sense since it seemed to be talking about his (young) children in a hypothetical future, not his (grown) children in a remembered past.

There’s a long, detailed answer by Natan on iTalki in response to the query, spanning no fewer than 8 reply boxes.  It’s pretty strong stuff, but if you’re in the mood for a challenge, it’s worth it. Natan is Brazilian but knows the European variant inside out so don’t worry that he’s going to indoctrinate you into transatlantic heresy.

It probably boils down to this though: Portuguese and English can both use these speculative past/present tenses to talk about events in the future. In one possible translation, it comes out as “It is an experience that I’d be happy if my kids, someday, when they’re older, were able to experience”. As you can see not a future tense in sight: You’ve got “I would” (conditional), “they are” (present) and “were” which is either an imperfect indicative or a present subjunctive*. In Portuguese, the first box could be “forem” but “fossem” sounds more natural and there seems to be agreement that the second one can only be “pudesse”, not “poderão” or “poderiam” or anything else.

As the young people say: “I’m shook!”



*= present subjunctive would be my bet but secretly, I quite like that my language is relaxed enough that I don’t know or – if I’m honest – care which. We’ve always kept our grammar super-simple so as to allow plenty of linguistic brainpower free to invent new pointless synonyms for stuff.

By the way, I originally wrote the title of the iTalki question as “Tempos Verbais Desesperados” which means “Desperate Verb Tenses” which I think sounds pretty good – like a much nerdier version of “Desperate Housewives”. The current title uses “Inesperados” which is what I should have said: “Unexpected Verb Tenses”

Thanks to Natan – and to Sofia and Kamenko for their contributions too.



Just a data nerd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s